Photo Essay: CalArts Celebrates World Music And Dance
What is the purpose of music?
Hannah Dexter pauses for a moment to consider the question at hand. Dexter, a junior at the California Institute of the Arts who studies jazz and bass, is resting on a friend's couch after singing in a West African music and dance showcase for the CalArts World Music and Dance Festival, a six-concert spectacle organized by students and faculty.
It's an exhausting gig. Dexter also serves as the assistant producer for the festival, where she's also charged with managing media and keeping track of all the performers so that the week-long festivities can run smoothly. After the first night, her friends bought a case of beer to celebrate the festivities. Instead, she took a nap on their couch.
"Coping," she finally replies.
"Any time I don't know how to address an emotion, music is the way I do it," she continues. "Happiness, anger, sexiness, boredom... grief..."
For Dexter and other students at CalArts, their waking life revolves around fine-tuning their artistic sensibilities. Musicians, filmmakers, painters, animators, actors and dancers from all over the world live and create together in the arid hills of Valencia, CA in a facility originally conceptualized by Walt Disney to be a sort of "Caltech of the arts." But for an institution associated with Disney -- a man who once banned long-haired hippies from entering his parks -- CalArts is exceedingly liberal. Jazz players can drift into dissonant realms without second thought and artists are free to adorn their galleries with whatever anatomical parts they feel like plastering on school walls.
Not that there aren't any rules however. For one, all music majors have to take a class in the world music department.
"In some cases, like jazz studies, it makes since jazz is derivative of African music," said Dexter.
She explained that unlike other music schools, which usually only offer courses on the history and theory behind world music, CalArts stresses the importance of performing music from different cultures as well as understanding it from a historical and theoretical lens. Also Dexter emphasized the importance of using such newfound knowledge to build upon one's own creative voice, rather than simply reciting the ideas of others.
"The teachers within the world music department really encourage us to expand upon the music," said Dexter, "and not just to play it."
Robert Anderson is a first year masters student who studies jazz percussion. Anderson is participating in the West African music and dance showcase because he's taking the class. He explained that tonight's performance revolved around interlocking rhythmic patterns that took cues from a lead drum.
"Some patterns are triplet based, some are eighth-note based -- not all are in a meter but it all fits into a bell," said Anderson.
Constant immersion helped Anderson learn the routine.
"I hear it every day," he shrugged, "whether I want to or not."
Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole helped the students prepare for the West African music and dance showcase. She is the daughter of instructor Beatrice Lawluvi -- Ladzekpo-Cole stepped in during the last few weeks of class to help the students polish their moves.
"I really wanted them to be nice and tight," said Ladzekpo-Cole.
"When you take events out of a traditional setting, when you have people that are going to watch, you will need to entertain them in some way," said Ladzekpo-Cole. "The purpose was to be really giving toward the energy, instead of just dancing for ourselves."
Below are a set of photos from the first two nights of the concert.
Reach Aaron Liu here.